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Posted: August 4, 2012 4:57 p.m.

Library Funding

We all know our elected officials and Newton County Library Board of Trustees and its staff have struggled with the issues of agency funding and specifically the library for months now. We know the monies are precious and lean and I respect your difficult decisions. When I attended the board meeting on Thursday with about 30 others, I saw that these are people who have long been dedicated to this cause, but need the help of citizens to go further. I, like many, often don't see these struggles because I don't attend the meetings and follow the issues as well as I should. A growing group of citizens are, however, looking and asking that these officials please take one more look at the state of our library. Staffing our library is not a luxury.

All too often, we wish we had hindsight to know how our decisions would play out. This one, the state of our local library, is happening now and perhaps it isn't too late. We are asking that everyone, elected officials and citizens, take a look at how our choices are affecting the library today. The library is in desperate need of emergency funding from our county and the volunteer efforts of its patrons. We have a chance now to see hindsight with 20/20 and stop these human and material resources from slipping away.

The library staff is apparently serving three sites, not one, with 43 percent of the funding it once had. The article in the Friday paper discussed the backlog of books to be shelved, which is something a team of volunteers can remedy. The Library Board will be allowing volunteers to come in on Monday, a day normally closed to the public, to enlist help in re-shelving the library. We are grateful that this agency is collaborating with the citizens to make this possible for the benefit of the public. That isn't their only need.

According to numerous studies, early investment in children's education is one of the surest ways to steer the next generation on the pipeline to careers rather than jail cells. And public libraries are a critical part of this. Our own Newton County superintendent has been heard repeatedly emphasizing the value of "background information" (a point of reference or understanding about things they may not see in their everyday lives) as essential to children's success in school.

"The readers and leaders of tomorrow are reading and meeting in the children's library," said Carmen Deedy, a New York Times Best Selling children's author and DeKalb County Library Board of Trustee. "The children's area is what grows the library. If you want to guarantee the demise of the library, take away the children's library staff."

Native born and nationally renown storyteller Andy Irwin recently said, "I love my community. You know that. I want so much to see it thrive. In the past year, I have performed in some 50 libraries in communities of varying sizes from Port Angeles, Wash., to Miami, Fla. In my travels, I have never seen a library without an active and staffed children's area - that includes libraries I have toured in Georgia this very summer. Surely our situation in Newton County cannot be that exceptional."

I recall years ago the soaring numbers of book check-outs processed by our small, suburban library exceeding other Georgia libraries - some of them much more expansive and well-furnished and serving larger populations. Ten years ago, this was such a feather in the director's cap, the newspaper was asked to report it more than once. I have been told in recent years that this trend continues, and I believe it does still today. This is evidence that our library, even more than many, is reaching and serving the public. That includes families that do not have the resources to just buy books online at their whim. The library serves a broad population, and much of that service is channeled through the children's department.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Newton's child population (ages 5-12) grew seven times that of Georgia in just five years. We, therefore, have an even greater obligation to serving these youth. Even if other county libraries were forced to de-staff their children's department as ours has (and based on anecdotal evidence above, they are not), we have a greater responsibility given our child population.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners have graciously agreed to hear this issue on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 7 p.m. We ask concerned citizens to attend in support of emergency funding for the Newton County Library so that no more of our wonderful staff will be added to the economic losses. Perhaps this is a more sustainable way of reducing the prison budget.

Tamela Mills is a former horticulturist and editor now active in community development and education.

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